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Lawsuit targets mortgage brokers

An attorney representing a homeowner has filed the first local lawsuit in what could be a wave of litigation targeting mortgage companies and other real estate professionals.

Robert Cottle, a partner in the Las Vegas law firm Mainor Eglet Cottle, filed the lawsuit May 1 in Clark County District Court on behalf of homeowner Brad Cohen, who refinanced his southeast Las Vegas home with an adjustable-rate mortgage in 2005 and can no longer afford his monthly housing payment.

In the lawsuit, Cohen accuses eight defendants of fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation, and breach of covenant good faith and fair dealing. Named in the lawsuit are Countrywide Financial Corp.; Countrywide Home Loans; HSBC Mortgage Corp.; Direct Equity Mortgage Corp.; Alex Burke, an employee of Direct Equity Mortgage; Countrywide Tax Service; Rob's Tax Service; and National Title Co.

Just one defendant, HSBC, answered a query about the allegations by press time. An HSBC spokeswoman said simply that the company doesn't comment on legal matters.

None of the defendants had responded to Cottle by Monday afternoon. They were served on May 6, and they have 20 days from that day to answer Cohen's claims. Cottle said he expects to hear from defendants in the next day or two, and they'll likely ask for more time to address the filing.

Cohen's lawsuit is part of a nationwide spate of actions against Realtors, mortgage brokers, appraisers, title companies and lenders.

Attorneys in Arizona, California, Maryland, Ohio and New Mexico have filed lawsuits claiming that professional lapses could cost hundreds of thousands of homeowners their properties.

Cottle and other attorneys argue that sales agents, lenders and mortgage brokers failed in their fiduciary duty

to explain all purchasing and borrowing options and to give home buyers recommendations based on buyers' best interests. Brokers and agents focused instead on commissions, fees and corporate bonuses that came with subprime loans and exotic mortgages such as interest-only payments and option-ARM financing.

Cohen alleges a mortgage company falsified his income on his loan application, and he said his broker told him he didn't have to read the 200-page packet of information he signed at the loan's closing. Because they'd done business before, he trusted her, he said, and he signed the documents without studying them.

In September, two years after his refinancing, the disabled dairyman's interest rate jumped. His monthly payment went from $1,700 to $2,400. He owes more than the home is worth, so he can't refinance. He hasn't made a payment since the fall.

Cottle said he's heard from hundreds of other Las Vegans facing similar circumstances. He plans to file lawsuits on behalf of those who took out subprime loans on primary residences when their credit histories would have qualified them for conventional mortgages. Brokers and lenders pushed subprime loans on consumers because commissions were considerably higher than the fees on traditional mortgages, Cottle said.

Cottle said he's also weighing multiparty lawsuits against home builders and developers who "knew the market was going down, but who continued to sell their product at an elevated price without telling new homeowners their homes would be worth less than they paid for them in six months."

"It's similar to insider trading," Cottle said. "It's someone with inside information selling at a high price, knowing what they're selling will go down in value."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.


Category: Mortgage broker

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